IRVINE, Calif. — Mazda North America Operations is ending its sponsorship of the Road to Indy ladder racing program at the end of this season, a move that could have implications for Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., the "presenting sponsor" for the program and its three "feeder" racing series.
Mazda Motorsports Director John Doonan announced July 31 the end of Mazda's participation in the IndyCar driver development program after nine years, saying the move will allow Mazda to devote more resources toward its growing sports car participation.
Cooper, which has been involved in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder program since 2010, is "looking forward to a successful culmination of the 2018 race season and an exciting 2019 season" working in concert with Andersen Promotions toward "developing the next generation of open-wheel talent for IndyCar," according to Chris Pantani, director of motorsports for Cooper.
"Mazda has been a great supporter of the Road to Indy and integral in the development of this program as the only true path to IndyCar," Mr. Pantani said in a prepared statement. "Their contribution will have a lasting positive effect on the series and drivers who have participated in the program."
Cooper is the tire supplier and presenting sponsor for US Formula 2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights, the three open-wheel racing series that make up the Road to Indy program. Cooper expanded its presence with the Road to Indy program last year, agreeing to become the presenting sponsor of the Mazda Road to Indy in addition to supporting each of the three feeder series.
Mazda confirmed that the winners of the 2018 USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights series will receive Mazda Advancement Scholarships for the 2019 season, and the annual $200,000 Mazda Road to Indy Global shootout also will be held in December as scheduled.
The Road to Indy series has produced several drivers who have gone on to compete in the Verizon IndyCar Series, including past Indy Lights champions Josef Newgarden (2011), Spencer Pigot (2015) and Ed Jones (2016).
With this decision, Mazda Motorsports will refocus its resources on grassroots club-racing initiatives, the Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich, the Mazda Road to 24 driver development platform and Mazda Team Joest, which fields a pair of prototype racers in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.